Charleston workers, activists gather to Fight for 15, remember MLK and Walter Scott
Anthony Scott stood before a crowd on the second anniversary of his brother’s death and asked the community to continue supporting their fight.
The family’s pursuit of justice for his brother, Walter, has not abated, he told the crowd, which had gathered to mark the anniversary of Walter Scott’s 2015 death at the hands of a North Charleston police officer, as well as the anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event was also a rally in support of a $15 per hour minimum wage.
“We need to all stay in this fight,” Scott said. “I thank God for the diversity of the crowd. It’s very humbling and very appreciated to see the diversity here today because this is what we need today, diversity for all to see.”
The fight for civil rights, as exemplified in King’s life and in the case of Scott’s death, goes hand-in-hand with the fight for fair pay, according to the event’s organizers with the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422 and the Charleston chapter of Fight for $15, a nationwide organization calling for a higher minimum wage.
Many held signs with King’s likeness, the text “Still Fighting For The Dream,” and #Fightfor15 during the rally in front of the union’s headquarters on Morrison Drive. Other speakers included union member Leonard Riley and Shaundra Scott, of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina. The rally was part of similar protests held Tuesday in 24 cities across the country.
King saw a connection between the labor and civil rights movements, according to a statement from the Charleston chapter of Fight for $15. He was killed in 1968 supporting striking black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn.
Scott asked the community to continue to pray for his family as they prepare for the state retrial of Michael Slager, the former police officer accused of murder in his brother’s shooting death, and for an upcoming federal trial.
The first jury to deliberate Slager’s fate couldn’t agree on whether he broke state law April 4, 2015 when he shot Scott five times from behind. That trial last year ended in a mistrial. He faces a federal civil rights proceeding in May before any retrial in state court.
Next month, a second jury will consider a different charge under federal law: violating Scott’s civil rights by using excessive force. The federal trial is expected to start May 9 with jury selection in Columbia. Testimony will begin May 15 in Charleston. Slager faces up to life in prison if convicted of violating rights under the color of law.
Slager pulled over Scott’s car on April 4, 2015 for a broken brake light and ran after Scott. They got into a struggle. The officer said Scott grabbed his Taser and tried to use it, drawing his gunfire.
An eyewitness video showed Scott breaking free and running away. Slager fired eight bullets, hitting Scott five times in the back.
“We need closure for all of us because this affected everyone in our city,” Anthony Scott said. “We didn’t tear our city down. We didn’t burn our city up. We didn’t riot. We remained peaceful. We did seek justice, just like we do today and we will continue to do.”
Fight for $15 protesters have rallied in Charleston in the past, such as in November 2016 when they picketed outside of a McDonald’s restaurant on Spring Street in downtown. Demonstrators blocked traffic on the Septima P. Clark Parkway, also known as the Crosstown, near Taco Bell/KFC.
Then Charleston police arrested seven protesters and charged them with disorderly conduct.
Tuesday’s rally was peaceful. After the selection of speakers wrapped up, attendees went inside the union hall for a viewing of the documentary, “At the River I Stand,” which explores the two months leading up to King’s assassination on April 4, 1968.
Derick Frederick, a member of the Charleston Fight for 15 who works in the fast food industry, shared his story.
Frederick told the crowd that he is calling for a $15 minimum wage because of his 4-year-old daughter.
“I’ve struggled,” he said. “I (couldn’t) afford food or housing and I couldn’t even provide for my daughter. It’s like every time I got a good job, but when I got my check, nothing was adding up right. It’s never enough. For the last couple of years, I’ve been homeless — bouncing from couch to couch, motel to motel. I spent many cold nights in the street.”
Many others are out there struggling like he is, Frederick said.
“We can’t talk about fighting for racial justice without talking about fighting for workers, fighting for living wages and fighting for our union rights,” he said.
Riley urged residents to be involved and especially to vote.
The way forward, he said, is to ensure that politicians pay attention to what the people have to say.
“I believe this is the path forward,” Riley said. “We have people coming together and making a difference for people, to make difference for people.”